Well, I had a fabulous time at Emily’s. Heavenly, you might say (ha, ha, sorry, inside joke). I went not knowing what we were going to do, except talk a lot, of course, and talk a lot we did, and we did many other interesting and surprising things too. As I wrote on Saturday, Emily and Bob have a fabulous house chock full of books, and any free moment I had I wandered around from room to room checking them out. But mostly I spent the time lounging around on sofas deep in conversation, and now and then we headed out into the heat to do some sightseeing.
The weekend is memorable for lots of reasons, but among them is the fact that I got to talk with a real live minister to whom I could relate as a friend rather than as an intimidating person who might ask me embarrassing questions about my (lack of) faith. I’ve never had that experience before, and I took full advantage of it. Actually Bob did do things like tell me I’m a sinner and need to confess, but he did it as a joke, and I just laughed at him. Can I just say it’s delightful to be irreverent and joke about religious matters with a minister? To swear and take the Lord’s name in vain in front of a minister and have it be no big deal? There’s something positively healing in being able to do that.
I don’t remember exactly how the topic of religion came up, but pretty soon I was asking Bob questions like “what’s your conception of God?” and we were off into deep theological waters. What I learned, among other things, is that if you ask a minister a question like that, you’d better be ready to spend a few hours talking about the answer. Bob did a wonderful job of answering my question, which really requires several years and a book-length response, in a short period of time and with great clarity and lots of good anecdotes.
I also got a kick out of attending a church service run by the minister with whom I’d spent much of the weekend being irreverent; I was pleased to discover that he wanted to hear my critique of his sermon afterwards, and that he’d added in a phrase or two at the last minute that addressed our earlier conversations. Part of my pleasure in all this is that it made me feel like such a grown-up — a church leader genuinely wanted to hear my opinion and took it very seriously and was really listening to what I had to say, rather than waiting for an opportunity to start preaching to me once again, which has been my experience with ministers in the past.
But the real highlight of the weekend was being able to talk with Emily; we talked about books and houses and friends and family and churches and theology and teaching, and also quite a lot about blogging. It’s interesting that, although we both have been blogging for about two years and have already had many a long conversation about it, we haven’t run out of things to say; the experience remains rich enough to require even more conversation. Also interestingly, Bob is a skeptic about the value of blogging, so the three of us argued about things like whether blogging is democratic in the sense that it gets people with different ideas and beliefs in conversation with one another or whether it makes it easy for people to retreat into groups of like-minded people who never challenge each other, and so is contributing to the fragmentation and isolation of our culture. Although Bob had other arguments against blogging, this struck me as the most interesting; I think that blogging is whatever you make of it, so it can lead to increased exposure to different ideas and people, but I suspect that in practice it often doesn’t. I’m not sure. Thoughts?
Emily and Bob live in the heart of Amish country, so I saw buggies and men with long beards and women in modest dresses all over the place, and also fields and farms and livestock. We saw some of the tourist sights, including a little village with shops selling local cheese and fudge and jam, all of which I brought home samples of, and we toured the local market, which contains mostly organic and locally-grown food, and which I really want to have just up the street from me. I had fun at the Lancaster Brewing Company, although the ghost story Bob told while we were sampling their beer is still scaring me a little at night.
Among the unexpected things we did was to spend time at the local hospital and rehab center; Emily and I would hang out in the lobby and talk while Bob visited church members. Bob seemed to feel bad for dragging us along on these trips, but I was fine with it, as the air conditioning was a blessed relief from being outdoors, and I really just wanted to talk with Emily anyway. It also gave me a glimpse into a pastor’s life, and I have a new respect for all the hard work they do — it’s not just the frequent visits pastors make but the fact that each one could potentially be an emotionally wrenching experience. I saw just how much a pastor’s job is never ending and isn’t really a job at all, but more of a lifestyle.
So, to conclude, if you ever get the chance to visit Emily, don’t turn it down! You never know what bracing debate you might find yourself in or what local public institution you might visit. Plus, there’s the frog shrine, which is not to be missed.
10 responses to “Weekend at Emily’s”
Dorothy! “…whether blogging is democratic in the sense that it gets people with different ideas and beliefs in conversation with one another or whether it makes it easy for people to retreat into groups of like-minded people who never challenge each other, and so is contributing to the fragmentation and isolation of our culture” is almost the exact discussion I had with a good friend lately. And my response is very similar to yours. I so hope I am (we all are) using this amazing space to stretch ourselves, to relish the opportunity to see newly and differently thanks to what others bring. But I do sense a (not unpleasant) “like drawn to like” effect as well. I hope I don’t settle there however. I hope I am curious and brave enough to take branch out, to take some risks. No doubt bloggers can get what they want out of blogging. I’ll be interested to see what others think.
I’m so happy you had such a great experience at Emily’s, and so happy to have you back! Jacques
Sounds like you had a great weekend. It’s nice having such good friends that it’s a pleasure to spend lots of time with! And it sounds like a nice area to visit. As for the blogging question–I’m not sure either what the answer is. I know I’ve found a comfortable niche with like minded people (and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that), but they still broaden my thinking by what they read and how they think. If I was just in my own little corner of the world and not blogging–I wouldn’t be exposed to other people in other places (many in other countries) and their different worldviews.
Very nice account of the fabulous weekend. Thinking more on the like-minded blog question, my gut reaction is to deny it, to think that whole worlds are being opened up to me, but, like others, I do feel that I am mostly hanging out (just as I do in real life) with like-minded souls. That being said, I also think it depends on how one defines “like-minded.” As I said when you were here, you and I never would have met if it weren’t for blogs, and you and I are from very, very different backgrounds (e.g. I see nothing at all unusual in hanging out and being irreverent with ministers, having observed my parents doing that all my life, and I’m sure there are experiences you’ve had that I’d find very unusual), although we may be quite like-minded at this point. Superficially, I guess, though (white, middle class, educated, etc.), we’re in the same “tribe,” so to speak, as are (I imagine) most whose blogs I read on a regular basis.
I think that people do tend to migrate to like-minded bloggers, but like friends in real life, they do stretch you. What I think is divisive about the web though, is that it can be polarizing, especially in areas like religion or politics — which both influence culture here in the US. I wish that there were more middle-of-the-road blogs, or those that were neutral and evaluative of both sides of the issues. A Point/Counter-Point type discussion. I’m not aware of too much of that going on in the blogosphere.
What a wonderful time you had! As for the blog question, I do think most tend to read blogs with whom they agree. This doesn’t mean as others have said that there is not any stretching going on. Sometimes blogs I like draw my attention to a challenging book or encourages me to take another look as what I think about something. But then in real life I generally hang out with like-minded people too so I don’t see how translating that to blogging makes it a negative thing.
It’s true that blog communities tend to be like-minded, but as Stefanie says, that is no different than “real” life. In fact I think I am more exposed to different opinions online than I am elsewhere. People generally don’t get into heavy political or religious debates in person, but online you can air your full opinions with much less social risk.
All I can say about the weekend is that it sounds absolutely wonderful! As for blogging, well, I think in any social space, radically different views can sound aggressive if they’re nor very carefully expressed and so the natural response is to close up to them and not listen. Blogging is good in that the ostensibly like-minded people around you often challenge you gently and interestingly as it’s rare ever to write a post that everyone simply agrees with. And then the net offers you the widest range of views possible all within a click of the mouse and so you can hear them if you want, without feeling pushed or punished. I like the freedom and the flexibility of that.
Thinking about blogging and its inherent value or lack there of makes my head hurt! I am so glad you two had such a great time and bummed I couldn’t join you but the heat and hiking probably wouldn’t have meshed anyway. We’ll have to try again, though.
TJ — what I see around me are people like you who want to stretch themselves and read different perspectives, but I’m not entirely sure my corner of the blog world is at all typical! People talk about the nastiness of blog comments all the time, and I see none of that, so I can’t exactly trust my own experience to be representative. But maybe there really are a lot of people out there who, while they enjoy meeting people like themselves, although appreciate getting stretched a bit.
Danielle — I think the important thing is to compare our blogging experience with our real life experience, and in that case we really do meet new and different people online in a way we wouldn’t in life. I feel like my horizons have broadened from blogging, and I’ve become more aware of cultural differences from reading people in other countries.
Emily — you’re right that it comes down to how we define “like-minded.” It’s interesting to think about the ways the two of us are different, since we seem so alike a lot of the time! I suppose I think that while blogging may not necessarily put you in touch with people who are extremely different from you (although it can), it does put you in touch with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise and that have different perspectives from yours — maybe not radically different, but different nonetheless. It certainly hasn’t shut down contact with new kinds of people.
Cam — what you say makes sense, that blogging in areas like religion and politics can tend to be polarizing in ways book blogging just won’t be, because of the nature of the topic. I don’t know the political or religious blogosphere much, but I’m sure there is a real need for blogs like the ones you describe.
Stefanie — you’re right about comparing blogging to real life — blogging has put me in touch with a whole range of people of the sort I would never have met off line, and it’s certainly expanded my knowledge of books, which in turn expands my knowledge of the world.
Sylvia — it’s very true that people will talk in depth about issues online in a way they might not in person — I love the way the internet allows for conversation that takes place over time, so that I have time to think about what I want to say.
Litlove — you’re so right about the “tone of voice” issue; one of the things I like about my corner of the blog world is the way people do their best to be clear and fair and if they disagree to do it as carefully as possible. That’s hard work, but it’s well worth it.
Courtney — I’m sorry I missed seeing you, but you’re right about the heat — next time for sure!
Dorothy, I liked your irreverent discussions with Emily’s priest, and the blogging debate. I don’t have strong opinions about the merits (or limits) of blogging but I’ve found that engaging with other bloggers forces me to read more and to think more, and to be more aware of my opinions.